Stepping out of the airport, onto the grey pavement, into the yellow sun, following our shared taxi driver—what else is there like this? Every time I blinked, my eyes were swallowing something new. As we rushed over the highway toward Mandalay, I looked around in every direction.
The buildings grew taller and taller, and vehicles became traffic, which became more chaotic. I loved it. At once I could connect sights with familiar places and drink in everything as all new. After dumping our bags in our hotel room, I was raring to explore the city that evening on foot.
Darkness fell, but only after we explored the blocks surrounding our hotel – up to the fortress and down along the streets. We ate dinner at a Shan restaurant, where a waiter kindly laughed and mimed I should chomp a dessert I had been sucking my tea through.
The next day was a full one, filled with temples. My goodness, does Myanmar have temples. We first were driven to the top of Myanmar Hill, where we stood in a line for the elevator, barefooted, surrounded by throngs of people. It was a holiday, and the locals stood shoulder to shoulder with us as we crammed into the lift. The crowd didn’t thin out in the temple itself, but we wound our way around, casting our eyes about, for every which way there was an intricacy, a level of detail covering most inches of this huge space.
From there it was more temples, and a weaving factory, and a gold leaf factory, and lunch. Ben’s tealeaf rice? So good.
More temples, of course. We overlooked the Ayeryarwady River. We walked among Buddha after Buddha. Shoes on, shoes off. We filtered through the crowds and posed for photos with young and eager local girls. In between it all I sat in the back of the taxi with Ben, wiping the dirt off our feet and grinning at each other.
Toward evening, we went to U Bein bridge, the world’s longest teak bridge. It’s old and it shows; I felt a little nervous walking along with the hordes of people – mostly local tourists still – and glancing at the cracks under my feet. Some kids came up in shirts that proclaimed, “speak to me in English.” Their teacher explained they wanted to interview foreigners to improve their skills, so we obliged, withdrawing from the crowd to sit on a bench as we were asked our name and if we liked Myanmar. When we stood back up, it was time to cross back the way we came in time for sunset. Boats with tourists floated over the lake beneath us. The yellow orb of the sun sank lower and lower, silhouetting those on the bridge with their arms outstretched for selfies.
As the dark encompassed us, we went back to the hotel, setting down our cameras before heading out again in search of food on the city streets. Across from a mosque, in what appeared to be the Muslim quarter of town, we came across a chapati stand. Our food was served to us with an enormous grin and my face quickly matched our server’s as I took a taste.
That night in our hotel room, after our first full day in Myanmar, I could say without hesitation I was satisfied, excited, and – happy.